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Mind the 'Generation Gap' - How YouTube is making kids smarter

We are currently facing an unprecedented ‘Generation Gap’ between the younger section of our population and those of us unlucky enough to have lived a childhood without iPads and the internet of things. It has been said that the world has not seen a gap so large for at least 50 years, way back at the invention of rock and roll, back then the older generation were worried that this new craze would lead their children down a dark and demonic path filled with sock-hops and exposed ankles (the horrors) which of course turned out to be a bunch of superstitious flim-flam, and we learned from our mistakes right? Now we know that new things don’t necessarily mean bad, right? Nope. All that we have done is replace ‘Rock-n-Roll’ with video games and YouTube but the media still presents it as indoctrinating garbage that are melting our kid’s minds. I am here today to posit an opposite opinion, that ‘New Media’ is making our kids smarter than we ever were at the same age, and hopefully by the end of this post some of you will agree with me and perhaps go out and grab some of this free education and knowledge that the younger generation are using to overpower us. After all it’s our job to make sure we prepare them for the world the best we can. Since starting with HackLab I have observed this gap at work and it constantly amazes me what kids can come up with when presented with a technological problem.

First I must address the portion of the audience that got to that part about ‘New Media’ and thought to themselves….. wait what? What is ‘New Media’?

                "New media most commonly refers to content available on-demand through the Internet, accessible on any digital device, usually containing interactive user feedback and creative participation. Common examples of new media include websites such as online newspapers, blogs, or wikis, video games, and social media."

I am almost certain that New Media is to blame for the difference in attitude and experiences that make this new generation so much smarter than we were. For the sake of this post I will be focussing on creators on YouTube who are using this platform to educate us on a variety of subjects.

Some background on myself and the inspiration that brought me to write this post for you. I am a high functioning YouTube addict, yet to seek help as I don't think there is a group for that (if anyone knows of one I would be very interested to hear more). Now when I say YouTube addict you might think I spent the majority of my university years watching videos of cats or people getting hit in the nuts, and you would be partially right, but it's not these videos that got me hooked. You see there is a large portion of the YouTube space occupied by people making educational content of a sort. There are hundreds of popular YouTube channels that teach kids (and more than a few 18 year old university students) fundamental scientific and mathematic principles in the most engaging way possible, using video games, TV shows and other relatable topics. In this post I am going to talk to you about a few of my favourite channels and why I think they are the leading the younger generation to be way smarter than us, but also to fill you in so that you can use them to learn a thing or two or maybe point your kids in the right direction to use their YouTube time to better themselves. 

Right with all that out of the way, on to the meat of this meal. The 'YouTubers', I will be looking at four of them to get you started but I will also mention a few others as well. With no further ado let’s get into it.

1. Game Theory/Film Theory. 

Both of these channels are run by the same dude, Matthew Patrick, who goes by the handle MatPat. The idea behind these channels, is to look at video games and movies and use science to answer some very weird and wonderful questions. Such as; "How deadly is a Mario Bullet Bill?", "Why do all the star fox squad have metal legs?", "Who is the 'One' in The Matrix?", "How fast is Sonic the Hedgehog?", and many more. It sounds silly, but the methods by which he arrives at the answers to these questions are anything but. MatPat is a seriously smart dude.

Let’s look at the Sonic episode to get an idea of the kinds of things this channel looks at, the main question for this one was, “How fast is Sonic the Hedgehog?” and MatPat dives straight in by working out the height of the Blue Blur we all know and love. He does this by looking at one of the worst Sonic games ever made, Sonic 2006 (if you haven’t seen this game you’re one of the lucky ones.. yikes!) but the useful thing about this game is it features humans alongside Sonic and they have a height that is relatable to the real world. After getting the height figure he needs he then works out the length of the first level in the classic Sonic the Hedgehog game and takes the world record time for completing it, 25 seconds, and uses that to give us Sonic’s average speed, 10m/s, and compares it to the speed of sound. So to recap less than four minutes into this video he has already covered how to calculate speed from distance and time, how to convert feet into metres and how fast the sound barrier is, all these things may be brand new to his viewers but MatPat has presented it in such a way that makes it relatable and interesting and now a bunch of kids are going to go into their school science lessons already having come across these vital concepts. He then goes on to compare this speed to Mario using a similar method and finds that Mario is actually faster than Sonic. This is useful as it means he goes through another example of the kinds of calculations you need to make to determine the speed of a character in a video game or a person in real life. As you can see MatPat is arming our younger generation with vital scientific concepts using a super relatable method to explain them. He has over 130 videos on his channel now and it is watched by over 5 and a half million people every week around the world, and it’s all free.

2. CGP Grey

CGP Grey is an American physics teacher who lives in London. He makes videos on topics like politics and geography but uses a no nonsense style of delivering his content that is very appealing to his audience. He has made videos on topics like; “The difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained”, “The Alternative Vote Explained” and “The True Cost of the Royal Family”. These topics may not seem the most exciting but the way he presents the information is intriguing and he spends a little time at the beginning of each video drawing the viewer in and peaking their interest in the topic he is about to discuss.

For Mr. Grey I think it’s best to look at his most popular video, “The United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained”, this video went viral in 2011 and has received nearly 8.5 million views. The topic he has chosen for this video is an interesting one, what is the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain, I must admit before watching I couldn’t have given a very good explanation, but Mr. Grey covers all the bases in his video, he starts by explaining that the United Kingdom is not itself a Country but instead a Country of Countries containing within it four separate and sovereign nations; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However he then explains that Great Britain is the name used to refer to the largest island in the British Isles which contains England, Scotland and Wales, and all of these countries have islands that are not in Great Britain. Okay so now we know what the difference is right? Not quite, he also discusses the crown dependencies and the Commonwealth Realm and their relation to the Crown and the rest of the United Kingdom. I had no idea of the intricacies of this until the age of 19 when I discovered Mr. Grey but his video is out there and generally appropriate for kids as young as 8 or 9, who now have as much knowledge in this subject as I did 2 years into higher education, scary right? No, it’s a good thing that kids today have these resources to better themselves, and we should be using them too.

 3. VSauce/ VSauce 2/ VSauce 3

VSauce is one of the most subscribed education channels on YouTube, with over 10 million subscribers, launched in 2010 by Michael Stevens the channel started by making videos about video games. Michael then made a couple educational videos and found that these resonated well with his audience and so this became the focus of the channel. In December of 2010, 2 new channels launched with the VSauce brand, Vsauce2 which is a channel dedicated to technology and the inventions of the channels audience and Vsauce3 which brought back the focus on Video games but continued with the channels new focus by making the content educational. The main Vsauce Channel now focuses on mostly scientific and philosophical topics, such as “Why are we Morbidly Curious?”, “What if the Earth stopped Spinning?” and “Did the past really happen?” and these are just the surface subjects, this channel lives off segues using related topics to broaden the discussion.

Let’s look at the “How much does a shadow weigh?” one for an example, in this video Michael tries to work out if a shadow has any measurable weight. He starts by talking about the fact that light actually pushes things when it is hitting them so technically an area in shadow weighs less than an area in light. On this subject he talks about the 3 celestial bodies that cast a shadow on earth, the Sun, the Moon and Venus, he uses an experiment by Pete Laurence of Digital Sky where he used a tube that was exposed to the night sky to show that Venusian shadows exist. He then goes on to talk about the speed of light and how it differs on earth and in space, discussing the reasons for this. This leads to a discussion about Sonic and Photonic booms, and how most people know about the boom that occurs when an object goes faster than sound but not as many know that the same thing would happen if we broke the light speed barrier, this is shown by astronauts in space seeing flashes when looking at sunlight because the light is travelling much faster than their eyes are used to and there are little photonic booms happening in their irises. He then wraps up by asking the question, if you had a lightyear long plank of wood with a button at the end and you pushed it would the button be pushed instantly? Therefore moving faster than light. I’ll let you watch the video to find out the answer. As you can see the concepts covered in this video are vast and useful and at an age appropriate level for young kids, and the method in which it is delivered does not assume they are stupid, Michael uses a conversational tone in all of his videos and a no nonsense style of relaying information and this resonates well with kids. When they are treated like ‘babies’ and held back from certain subjects it’s frustrating for them and so when they find these channels that are having discussions with them in a mature way they flock to them.

4. Veritasium

Veritasium is a science based channel created by Derek Muller in 2011, the videos on this channel range from interviews with scientific experts to science riddles for the audience to solve. Derek is famous for the sections in his videos where he asks for public opinion to point out major scientific misconceptions. Of all the channels we have discussed thus far, Veritasium is the purest education one, the videos are essentially science lectures aimed at a huge section of the population from kids to adults the content is appropriate for all ages. Videos on the channel are on topics such as; “Misconceptions about Temperature”, “Can we really touch anything?”, “Can you go at the speed of light?” and “Physics Nobel Prize 2011 – Brian Schmidt”.

I am going to break down the video on “Misconceptions about Temperature” as I think it is an excellent example of the content Derek produces. He starts the video by explaining that he is going to ask the public to compare the temperatures of two objects, a metal hard drive and a book, to see which they perceive as colder or hotter. The viewer is then shown clips of Derek talking to members of the public while they feel the two objects to determine which is colder, of course they all say the metal hard drive is colder than the book. Derek then gets two blocks out, one made of aluminium and one made of plastic, and asks them the question again, which is colder? The members of the public feel the two blocks and say that the aluminium must be colder, then using an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of the two objects and they are identical. This phenomena is caused by the different objects having different levels of thermo-conductivity, the metal objects draw heat away from your hand quicker and therefore feel colder. The simplistic approach to this video is archetypical of Veritasiums content, it makes its point in a very intriguing way that prompts the viewers to think about the problem first before being given the answer. This type of thinking is essential to the problem solving skills needed later in life, especially in an age where we all have google at our finger tips 24 hours a day and most questions are not so much thought about now as just typed and answered.


There are so many more of these content producers out there that this blog post would start to rival my dissertation if I carried on, but I would like to mention a few more briefly just to make you aware of them
  1.       Extra Credits, a channel dedicated to the study of game design
  2.       Computerphile, Sixty Symbols and Numberphile, are all run by Brady Haran out of the university of Nottingham and cover so many interesting concepts in computing, chemistry and Maths respectively
  3.       Because Science, on The Nerdist YouTube channel, is a show that looks at movies and TV shows and compares the fictional science to real science.
  4.       Minute Physics, this channel covers complex physics concepts in videos that are 5 minutes or less.
  5.       Smarter Every day, is a channel in the vain of Veritasium where they perform experiments and interview scientists with the aim of making their audience smarter.
  6.       Crash Course, a fun and witty channel that covers historical concepts in a new light.
So now you know a little more about what your kids are watching on YouTube or at least what they could be watching. These channels introduce complex scientific, philosophical, mathematical and historical concepts presented in a fun way that they do not get from our current education system until much later on. When you were young did you have any of these resources to help you learn? I know I didn’t, it wasn’t until university that I finally found the sorts of videos that resonated with me, if you ask any of my friends or colleagues I have a wealth of random general knowledge that has been gleaned from hours of trolling through all the educational content available for free online. There are two main purposes of this post, first I hope that you will at least give some of these channels a try if for nothing else than being able to understand the content your kids can be watching, but also when you see your kids spending hours on YouTube maybe you can recommend some of these to them to help them get ahead of the rest of their class. The internet has changed everyone’s lives but none more so than young kids, imagine never knowing a world without a tablet to play on? The level of information available to everyone nowadays is staggering and our kids know how to use this to their advantage, and we should too. You’re never too old to learn something new, or maybe be reminded of something you already knew but had completely left your mind.

After saying all of this I don’t want you to think I am unaware of the negative sorts of information available for kids, there is a lot of it and we as educators and parents have a moral responsibility to ensure our young wards are comfortable and know how to use this information responsibly. This post should be a nice push in the right direction, but please make sure you watch the videos before recommending them to your kids. This should be a given and I am sure it is for a lot of you, but the responsibility of making sure our kids are watching and playing appropriate things will always fall to us and not the creators.

If you guys liked this post let me know and maybe I can make some more educational New Media content!

Let’s keep getting smarter as a society,

Stay chill.